Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why Aren’t Dads Lobbying for Better Work Life Balance?

Over on my men’s work life balance blog, I’ve been writing about several recent studies, all which point to the fact that men, more than ever before, are struggling with work life balance. Today’s father is waking up facing a whole slew of issues that his father never really had to consider, yet we are still burdened by the expectation that our fathers did face—namely, to be the primary breadwinner.

There are countless examples, of course, of families where mom out earns dad, or dad is the stay at home parent. This is great. We need to hail families like these as trailblazers for turning traditional gender roles on their ear. However, men have a larger battle on their hands, and for the sake of our children we need to arise to the challenge.

It is safe to generalize that men today want (or perhaps, expect) to be more involved with their kids than previous generations of dads. This, I believe is the source of our increasing dissatisfaction with work life balance—we want to be more involved with kids, are rightly expected to do more domestically, but are conditioned to believe we are of most use to our families at the office rather than the dinner table. It is an ugly game of tug of war where, ironically, both families and employers get less than they had bargained for.

Although work life balance is a societal issue—one that affects moms, dads, single people and same sex couples, it is still largely framed as a “mom’s issue”. And why not? Moms brought work life balance to the forefront as they blazed the trail for all aspiring career women who still embraced motherhood. But today, according to the Families and Work Institute more men (59%) than women (45%) are saying that work life and family life are interfering with each other.

I came across an article by Courtney E. Martin who co-authored a report for the Centre for American Progress. In it, she fully acknowledges that men are facing the work life balance crunch and largely get ignored in WLB discussions. But she asks a great question: “…what will motivate men to embrace work/life policy issues as their own?”

She goes on to say that as a woman, she shouldn’t have to answer that question, and that women are tired of asking men to “meet them half way.” Though I understand where the fatigue is coming from, I think her comment is short sighted.

However, her question (and the implied answer) is spot on. Men aren’t organizing and rallying against one-sided work policies (not to mention, work culture) that act as inhibitors to us being more involved fathers. We need to stand up as men, in the workplace and elsewhere, and demand that we no longer should be seen as second class citizens when it comes to parenting and  that we deserve the same flexibility policies that are granted to mothers. And we need to feel proud, not emascuated, if we choose to put time with family ahead of time at the office.  It’s sadly ironic that the whole world seems to know that involved fathers are the best way to keep our kids in school and out of gangs, jail, and the delivery room. Yet we do little in terms of workplace and social policy to support and foster that involvement.

Like women have done, we need to take responsibility for our actions and our future. We are the only solution to the problems that plague our work and family balance. As we approach Father’s Day, think about how proud you are to be a dad and how much you love being with your kids. And the next time you have the chance to stand up and speak out in support of fatherhood, be it at the work place or the bar, do it with your head held high. One day, your sons and daughters may thank you for it.


  1. Thank you. And we welcome you to the struggle/juggle. We know you've always been stuggling/juggling, but we welcome your voice to helping find solutions for all.

  2. Thanks, Leanne. Men could learn a lot from the battle scars that women have earned in this fight.

  3. Great post. I am a woman (Yale Law School-educated partner-level corporate lawyer), and men have my full support in this. I missed out (so far anyway) in being part of a family of my own in part because of this problem. Both because of trauma issues with having a poor relationship with my own angry, work-aholic father and a disempowered, dissociated mother which is too often the case in separate-spheres family models, and because I could not provide for myself and/or provide my share of family income and be a good mom/parent under most law firm models.

    The problems caused by not getting this fixed are real, even if they are not immediately visible. And I would venture to say they cost more and debilitate productivity more than having men (and women) going full-blast working themselves into the grave.

  4. PS- Have you contacted Nick Kristoff at the NYT about this? He might be willing to write a column.

  5. I really like this blog. Hopefully this comment works.